Friday, February 9, 2018

50 Years Ago: The Invasion of Russia (1968)

The 50 Years Ago column from the September 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

Nor is this by any means the worst. Fearful that if the Bolshevik enterprise should meet with success it might prove contagious, they have determined to crush it and restore their friends and allies, the Russian capitalists, to dominance. So we have a “league of nations” in being against the Bolshevik Government. Under the plea that f they are going to save Russia from the Germans they invade the country at various points. “We come as the friends of Russia." they declare, and disown any intention of interfering with “the internal politics of the country.”

Now with regard to the ludicrous statement that there is no intention of interfering with Russian internal politics. Everyone knows that it is openly admitted that one of the main objects of the Allies in invading Russia is “to save Russia from the Bolsheviks.” The capitalist Press has made no secret of it. Capitalist agents, both here and in Russia, have striven for it. In particular one may instance Dr. Harold Williams, when special correspondent to the “Daily Chronicle" in Petrograd. and since his return to this country. His filthy diatribes against the Bolsheviks leave no doubt as to their object — the overthrow of those against whom he inveighed.

What sort of game has been played is unwittingly revealed in an eulogy of Capt. Cromie which appeared in the “Daily Chronicle" on Sept. 14th. wherein after retailing some of Cromie’s activities in favour of the capitalist interests, it is stated that he went to Petrograd and strove to hold the forces of “sanity and reason" together. Needless to say, in the capitalist view, neither sanity nor reason can reside in Bolshevik craniums, and to scheme their overthrow is not interfering in internal politics, of course!
From the "Socialist Standard", September 1918.

Thalidomide Crime (1968)

From the August 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

Every so often capitalism commits one of its more colossal crimes against mankind. A recent example is that of the Thalidomide Babies.

The Sunday Times of 19 May discussed this matter fully under the headline of “The Thalidomide File”. The public first knew of this in 1961. Nine men from the firm of Chemie Gr√ľnenthal in the little town of Stolberg are at this moment on trial charged with placing on the market a drug which even when taken as instructed caused the human body an unacceptable degree of harm, for advertising the drug as completely safe when they could give no such guarantee, and for brushing aside and then deliberately suppressing the adverse reports from doctors that it caused those who took it to itch, shake, vomit and lose the power to stand. The charge is made that this same drug, which the sales department called “the apple of our eye” because it was so profitable, caused a large number of monstrously deformed babies. The trial is expected to last some ten years. It is obviously in the interests of the defendants to spin it out as much as possible so that some of the hot feeling may have died down.

The drug was exported to about 11 European, 7 African, 17 Asian and 11 American states. There are in Germany alone thousands of victims and roughly five thousand babies have been born there with appalling deformities. The discoverer of K17, as he named it, was a qualified chemist and doctor who had served at the Institute for Typhus and Virus Research at Cracow in Poland which was under the control of the German Army High Command during the war. His name was Dr. Heinrich Muckter. His precise role at the Institute was not clear but no charges were made against him at the Nuremberg Nazi doctors’ trial. We can anticipate that — especially in view of his past — many people will blame Muckter for this crime.

Socialists, however, whatever the outcome of the trial, will not give Muckter and his associates the sole blame for this incident in medical history. This does not mean we condone the actions of the men concerned.

Under capitalism some people are capable of doing anything for personal gain; others are not. Our view is that, given certain conditions, society will produce people with no scruples who will do whatever suits them no matter what the cost in human life and welfare.

The “business mind” is well illustrated by this extract from a letter written by the Sales Director of the firm which marketed Thalidomide to a sales manager in Essen :
  “We must realise above all else that such a quick rise in the turnover of a sedative must lead to certain apprehensions in the minds of doctors and chemists. Not all members of this clientele can keep their ethical attitudes within the limits of the market economy. There will certainly be doctors conscious of their responsibility, who in view of this trend, will start speaking about addiction.”
And a report from the Sales Office in 1960:
    “Unfortunately, we are now receiving increasingly strong reports on the side of this preparation, as well as letters from doctors and chemists who want it put on prescription. From our side, everything must be done to avoid putting it on prescription, since already a substantial amount of our turnover comes from over-the-counter sales.”
Even the Sunday Times was prompted to ask “Was the fault that of society, of a set of attitudes to profit and the responsibility that it entails?” They use the word “society”. We would say rather “capitalist society”. Our answer to their question is: yes, it is the fault of society, capitalist society.

Capitalism is an obsolete system of society; it long ago outlived its usefulness. It fetters production; it distorts production so that hitherto unimaginable horrors like this become realities. The “set of attitudes to profit” is thus the reaction of men to the relations of production in which they find themselves. When men convert the privately owned means of production into the common property of all, classes will disappear. Wealth will be produced simply as products to be distributed according to wants and needs, and not as now as commodities to be exchanged on a market with a view to profit. Socialist production and distribution would mean that technical development would hold no threats to human welfare, as it does now, with its sales propaganda nuclear “deterrents” and so on.

Human Rights (1968)

From the August 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

A couple of months ago, twenty-four prisoners in the maximum security wing at Durham Prison barricaded themselves in their cells in protest against a new work system. They were, they said, only sticking up for their rights. On March 5 last, forty-one young soldiers protested against Army bull and red tape by marching in good order out of barracks — and back in again later. Sticking up, again, for their rights.

The same week, Emil Savundra and Peter de Quincy Walker appealed against the heavy sentences imposed on them after the collapse of Fire, Auto and Marine. They were only demanding their rights. The February issue of The Seaman, journal of the National Union of Seamen, invites all NUS members to exercise their right to apply for a place in the union’s national one-week educational course.

Get the point? The word "rights” means almost anything that anyone wants it to mean.

Governments talk about "rights”. The French constitution of 1946 proclaims that all men have the right to work, to strike, to take leisure, to enjoy culture, to take part in joint management and to have society’s help when they are unfit to work. These "rights” sound desirable enough— but dig a little deeper, and ask in whose interests some of them are proclaimed.

Nineteen sixty eight, for anyone who has been too busy campaigning against political prisoners, racial persecution and dictatorship, is Human Rights Year. This is a United Nations idea; it goes back to May 1946, when the first meeting took place of the UN Commission on Human Rights. Eleanor Roosevelt, widow of the late President of the United States, was in the chair.

The Commission was expected to draw up two documents: a Declaration of Human Rights and an International Covenant (how these words roll off the tongue!) defining the principles of human rights and making them legally binding on all signatories. At the second session, at Geneva in November 1947, the Commission decided that three stages would be necessary — Declaration, Covenant, Implementation. The third session added a Preamble and eventually, in December 1948 in Paris the Declaration, and only the Declaration was accepted. The Covenant had to wait until 1966 for its adoption. And the Implementation?

Before anything can happen on that there must be some thirty-five ratifications and the UN admits there is little chance of that even though, it says, the Declaration embraces all the rights and freedoms essential for the dignity and development of the human personality. 

These are some of the rights covered by the Declaration: freedom from arbitrary arrest, detention or exile; the right to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal; freedom of thought, conscience and religion; freedom of peaceful association, opinion and information; freedom to leave or enter a country.

Now any well-intentioned humanitarian like, say, the Duke of Edinburgh—who is a patron of the U.K. Committee for Human Rights—would readily pay lip service to these rights for the working class. So would a lot of Labour lefties, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Soper and the Communist Party, who are all in it as well.

The U.K. Committee, supported by 140 organisations, will be campaigning all this year and a very impressive programme they have. One of the high spots is the International Seminar on Freedom of Association, in London this month. The campaign has four main objectives: to publicise the Declaration; to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination; to end all discrimination against women; to help the peoples of Britain’s dependent territories to realise their human rights. Not bad. It’s only taken them twenty years to think up four objectives. And what chance have they of being achieved?

Lena Jeger, Labour M.P. for Holborn and St. Pancras, in the New Statesman (31/12/67) gave a run down on some of the fine-sounding articles, for example: “Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state. The right to leave and return to any country.” And what did the Labour government do, a couple of months after she wrote that article, to the Kenyan Asians’ right to leave and enter any country?

The world situation was summarised in the UNESCO journal Courier of January 1968, in an article by Rene Cassin, former president of the UN Commission on Human Rights:
   Repeated violations of the rights to life, killings and massacres left unpunished, the exploitation of woman, mass hunger and starvation, the perpetuation of slavery, lack of proper education, disregard for freedom of conscience, opinion and expression, widespread racial discrimination and segregation, arbitrary government—all these and many other abuses are far too frequent to be denied.
In this sorry situation it would be better if the UN, instead of bewailing the fate of human rights, were to ask why they are so often violated. Sometimes it is simply a case of capitalism being unable to satisfy those rights. Thus although Article 25 of the Declaration states that everyone has the right “. .. . to a standard of living adequate for the health and wellbeing of himself and of his family including food, clothing and housing”, the November 1965 White Paper on housing stated that in Britain some three million families still live in slums, near slums or in grossly overcrowded conditions and the 1966 Annual Report of the Ministry of Health told us that "Of the 12,411 people in hostels for the homeless on one night last year 8,160—just under two thirds — were children.”

But what about the other violations of human nights—of human liberty? The plain fact here is that a ruling class which suppresses opposition does so because it sees that opposition as a threat to its own position. In Russia, for example, the state imprisoned the writers Daniel and Sinyavsky because it is afraid to allow too free a criticism of Russian state capitalism. This sort of event is not unknown in the so-called democracies of the western world. In wartime, for example, the British government assumes all sorts of dictatorial powers—and so it does in peacetime, when it considers the stability of British capitalism to be seriously threatened by, say, a strike.

If the history of Human Rights proves anything, it is that they cannot be achieved within a property society. The private property system is itself a matter of privilege and therefore a denial of the right of equal standing to the vast majority of the world’s people. Even more, a privileged class will always struggle to keep its privileges—often by force and suppression.

We have had World Refugee Year, which ended up with more refugees than it started with. We have had World Hunger Year — and we still have devastating famines. If Human Rights Year does as much for us. there will be a lot less freedom at the end of 1968 than there was at the beginning.
Joe McGuinness

Letters: Should Immigration be Controlled (1968)

Letters to the Editors from the August 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

Agreed that the new Commonwealth Immigrants Act, passed in March, is racialist even more than the previous ones, I cannot fully agree with the complete freedom of labour movement in the existing structures.

You say that “economics demands free immigration”. This is opinion, not fact. Asians are prepared to work long hours, weekends, in order to send home money to families left in the move. If by a strenuous (as it is) effort, disregarding leisure time completely, an Indian or Pakistani can earn a large wage, this holds back any claims for higher basic wages and/or a shorter working week. Labour becomes ‘cheap’ — or cheaper — whether this is economically true or not, it will seem to native factory workers who will feel resentment. This leads to prejudice in other matters.

Make labour available cheaply and one makes automation unnecessary. Already Japan, USA, etc. have managed, by increased technical efficiency, to increase industrial productivity. Thus it can be argued that allowing free immigration—especially of unskilled workers—holds back efficiency. I am no economist. There are perhaps faults in my reasoning, but surely you are aware of these arguments. Why not then deal with them in your article? Or is it that the above arguments are sound?

What is abhorrent is the limitation of entry into a country because of race, or religion, etc. Commonwealth citizens have no more right to come to Britain than we have to go to their countries—and yet they all impose strict control on immigration. It was all very well to cling to the 19th century ‘mother country’ idea when the influx was small and the immigrants, like the Hugenots, Poles, etc., seemed to be 'refugees’. Their numbers were small and they were assimilated with few pains. But now if it is a source of economic or social instability some control seems necessary. But anyone who comes to Britain should be subject to the same rules regarding entry—whether European, Canadian, South African or Indian. And if any check is to be made on entry, it should take place in the country of origin, to avoid disappointment when in a strange environment.

I am sympathetic to the immigrant, especially to the Asians whom I have taught. They represent a real problem, and frankly our education service is so understaffed and under-equipped that we cannot hope to teach our language and customs to an unlimited number. Uneducated immigrants cause greater prejudice than those who have overcome the language barrier and understand English attitudes and customs.
D. Green, 
14 Ena Crescent,

Capitalism brought our Blacks to create the racial hatred and colour bar to crush all resistance of the natives of this island, and to cheapen labour and force up the cost of living. Most of our unemployed are Whites and poorly housed in hostels like the Salvation Army, Church Army and Rowton Houses (on Board and Lodging Vouchers) who are making fortunes out of our homeless and half-starved workers. Blacks have created mass unemployment for our workers. Blacks are selfish and grab everything then can get for themselves. Capitalism is cunning as a rattlesnake and apparently cannot be beaten by small groups like the SPGB, who while you print a load of twaddle, have no real policy and favour Blacks before the English who have supported you from the start. Socialism! but National it will be! It’s on the way now! At least the SPGB gives an easy living to its leaders — that's all.
S. J. Deal, 
London, SE1.

Your article on Race Relations makes one think that you are in favour of the white man having to work, live and feel at home with coloured people. Such a thing is impossible. Our tradition and outlook is totally different from anything the coloured people have ever known. I agree with your assertion that a coloured man is every bit as capable as a white man given the chance and the conditions.

Socialism does not mean a free for all will take place when it comes. Black and While will not be forced to earn a living in a strange land. A free and full outlet will be the right of mankind to express the best that is in him without having to go to another part of the world to get a job. Marx’s declaration “Workers of the World Unite” meant politically and not nationally.

This country is too small for a larger population. In many parts there is no place for the native white people to live and the seeds are already being sown by the enormous number of coloured workers buying houses in an already overcrowded country. Already the dockers are supporting the criticism of their overcrowding here and those responsible for their coming here will have a lot to answer for before many more years.
W. Harding, 
London, E17.

Prejudice is defined as an opinion formed without proper consideration of the facts or arguments. Both Mr. Deal and Mr. Harding are prejudiced.

There is one simple reason why most of the unemployed in Britain are “white" and that is because 98 per cent of the population is.

Has “coloured immigration” cheapened labour, i.e., depressed wage levels? Alan Day, in an article in the Observer on 28 April, suggested that immigration had held back, rather than depressed, the wages of certain sections of the working class: those in the unskilled jobs that immigrants tend to do. He reckons that, without immigration (and this is the argument put forward by Mr. Green in the previous letter) employers would have been forced to introduce labour-saving machinery. It is quite true that one of the factors under capitalism which decides whether or not machinery is used is the level of wages. A labour shortage forces up wages and so could make machinery profitable. It is true also that London Transport in a bid to overcome an acute labour shortage did recruit workers in the West Indies. The hospitals, too, have had an acute labour shortage. But even if we concede that by restrictions on immigration certain workers could have pushed up their wages and that therefore immigration has harmed them, is this a reason why Socialists should support immigration control? Of course it is not. Socialists stand for the interest of workers all over the world. All who work for a wage or salary, no matter where they live or work or what language they speak or the colour of their skin, have a common interest; in working together to protect living standards while capitalism lasts and, more important, to replace capitalism with Socialism. One section of the working class may for a time improve its lot by keeping out other sections. But Socialists are opposed to sectionalism, whether it is by trade, nationality or colour. It hampers effective united action and spreads the pernicious theories of nationalism and racialism. We state frankly: we would not support immigration control even if it would maintain the living standards of some workers in Britain.

Has “coloured immigration" forced up the cost of living? We confess we are unable to fathom this one. It seems to be a prime example of the working of a prejudiced mind. Take something you don't like (rising cost of living) and blame it on some scapegoat (immigrants).

Has “coloured immigration” created mass unemployment? Unemployment there is. and will be as long as capitalism lasts, but at the moment there is not “mass” unemployment. Immigration is not the cause of unemployment. Rather the post-war immigration is itself the result of a relative labour shortage, as the Confederation of British Industries has pointed out.

Is it impossible for “white” and “coloured” people to work and live together? Mr. Harding says it is, on the grounds that the tradition and outlook of the two are completely different. Let’s clear up one point first: different peoples do have different traditions but it is not true that all “whites” share one common tradition and all “coloureds” another. If you are going to argue from different ways of life you must throw overboard arguments based on colour and so-called race, unless you are prepared to argue that a man's skin colour and other physical features determine how he must behave. All human beings are members of the same animal species, homo sapiens. All human beings are capable of learning and of absorbing the culture of the society in which they live. Such differences as exist between the peoples of the world are not the result of different natures, but of living in different environments. All peoples are quite capable of absorbing modern culture in a comparatively short time (see for instance, New Lives for Old by Margaret Mead). Obviously, people born and bred in a capitalist-industrial society are better equipped to live in it than people who have recently come to it from backward agricultural villages. This does not mean, however, that such immigrants must remain ill-equipped for ever.

Is Britain overcrowded? This is a big myth. In any event the figures for population per square mile do not allow us to say that an area is inhabited by too many people because it cannot sustain them. There is another factor which must be taken into account: the man-made means of production. In 1801 there were 12 million people in Britain, in 1851 22 million, in 1901 38 million and today about 54 million (of whom less than one million are “coloured”). Britain has been able to sustain an increasing population because of the ever-increasing productivity of the man-made means of production. In fact, of course, it does not make sense to take one part of the world in isolation from the rest. Britain, through the international division of labour, is part of the world economy and the earth could sustain many times its present population. If the politicians who talk about Britain being overcrowded really believed it they would also be advocating increased emigration, birth control, abolition of family allowances, the end of tax discrimination against single people and childless couples, and so on. They would also be instituting internal migration controls (giving us all “passes” as in Russia and South Africa): if Wolverhampton or London were overcrowded then they would be trying to stop people moving there from Glasgow and Wales as well as from overseas. But they are not, are they? This “overcrowded” argument is pure nonsense. It is only in vogue because it appears to be a respectable, rational argument for an immigration colour bar.

Now, for the odd ideas about the Socialist Party of Great Britain and Marx.

Have the English always supported us from the start? First, who are the English, anyway? It is true that till now the bulk of die members and supporters of the Socialist Party (but by no means all) have been what our correspondents would label “white”, but that is not by choice but by accident. Socialism is a system of society which the workers in the industrialisted parts of the world must strive for. The fact that most such workers at present happen to be “white” is irrelevant. We seek the support of all workers and have declared right from the start that we seek the emancipation of all mankind, irrespective of race or sex.

Do our leaders have an easy living? No, we have no leaders, just ordinary workers carrying out Socialist activity in their spare time.

Who said Socialism would be a free-for- all? We are sure that in a Socialist society people will be pleased to travel and work anywhere in the world. Certainly they will be free to do so.

What did Marx mean by “workers of the world, unite”? Perhaps Mr. Harding can tell us how workers can unite politically without workers from all nations joining together. He might also ponder over this one: Why did Marx let his daughter marry a “coloured” man from Cuba?
Editorial Committee

Morris as a Socialist Thinker (1968)

Book Review from the August 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

Three Works by William Morris. (Lawrence and Wishart. 10s. 6d.)

This paperback contains two of Morris’ important Socialist writings, both novels. A Dream of John Ball, applying the materialist conception of history, shows how an attempt at the time of the Peasants’ Revolt to establish a socialist society was doomed to failure. The establishment of Socialism had to be “the change beyond the change". In other words, society had first to pass through the capitalist stage before Socialism became possible. Morris also well describes the horrors involved in the change from feudalism to capitalism (obviously based on a reading of Marx).

News from Nowhere is a genuine Utopian novel insofar as Utopia is the Greek for “no-place". It is an account of what human relationships could be like (not necessarily what they would be like) in the future moneyless, classless society of Socialism. Morris is not concerned here with the technical basis of such a society and so scarcely mentions machines. This has been taken to mean that he was anti-machine. That Morris was against the use of machinery is a myth. Certainly he attacked the abuse of machinery in capitalist society with production geared to the market to make profits for the capitalists and machinery used to speed-up work and bore and degrade its operators. Morris knew that in a Socialist society, with production for human need, machinery would be used properly as its use would be under the democratic control of the community.

The third work is Morris' narrative poem on the Paris Commune.

Unfortunately, there is an introduction by that well-known second-rate Communist Party historian, A. L. Morton. He sees the electrification policy of state-capitalist Russia as the implementation of News from Nowhere. He denounces Morris’ concern about the dangers of a Socialist organisation attracting non-socialist support and his suggestions for overcoming it as “sectarian" and “rigid anti-parliamentarianism" (not true, Morris always stood for political action). But you don’t have to read the introduction.
Adam Buick